Archive | July, 2011

Revisiting:Nirvana Unplugged

28 Jul

On Spotify I have been hearing a smattering of tunes all of which pop up from random instincts within my brain, such is the pain and pleasure of having an immense database of music at your disposal. At 4am I found myself listening to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album for the first time in years.(which yes of course I own, but Spotify makes it easy to just pull stuff up!) I’m not sure why it’s been so long, it’s not that I haven’t heard Nirvana, maybe I just felt that it had been superseded by the recent release of their legendary set at the Reading festival. I mean that album IS Nirvana personified. Three chords at their loudest, all of the hits up to that point, charismatic perilous vocals by Kurt Cobain, and the energy of a nuclear crowd and a band hungry to prove themselves. This one Reading album makes up for the array of posthumously assembled compilations and box sets and is a necessary addition to any collection of Nirvana and rock and roll in general.
However what about the first posthumous release, Unplugged? I mean obviously everyone saw the special on loop after Cobain’s unfortunate suicide and they released 4 or 5 singles/videos of the performance. Everyone’s certainly heard the album, but listening to it again I never realized how jarring this album actually is. By jarring I don’t mean the typical spiraling cacophony of the band’s sound, it’s more about the choices made by the band itself for this special.
For example, looking at the actual album and program, there are indeed Cobain originals such as Something In The Way, About A Girl, Come As You Are, but there is a deliberate lack of hits on the album. No Heart Shaped Box? No Smells Like Teen Spirit? No Lithium? For the Nirvana newbie this album gives no impression of what the band really embodied…
And yet it is the immense(in stature and number) array of covers that have caused this album to cast a long shadow over the whole band’s discography. Where Did You Sleep Last Night(In The Pines), Man Who Sold The World, a troika of songs by the Meat Puppets all stand as monuments to the brilliance of Kurt Cobain the artist, singer and rock star. It takes balls to say, we’re doing a Lead Belly song, fuck doing another performance of Serve The Servants. Or In Bloom, it could sound good on acoustic, but not as awesome as Lake Of Fire! It’s a total rock star move that had to have the producers freaking out and only adds to the band’s legend.
Of course if you remember this performance well, you’ll notice how I haven’t mention the band’s cover of The Vaselines’ Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam. Now I love the Vaselines original, but hearing the Nirvana cover of this song again shook me. I’ve heard it hundreds of times since 1994, but yet it shook me up. Maybe it had just been so long since I had heard it, but it drove me to find the original performance on youtube to remember how it all really went down, how they looked. I hadn’t done it with any of the other songs, but this one I needed to see.
There was Kurt Cobain aged 26, bleached and comfortable in a swiveling office chair guitar slung over his lap. His face both pained and comfortable with his reading of the dour song. He never had a chance to look any different, he was gone in less than a year.
Krist Novoselic is on accordion, standing like a giant in galoshes over the rest of the seated band, using an instrument that wouldn’t be caught dead in the hands of the other bands of the era. A lady cellist adds to the gloom off to the side. Pat Smear is there too, a punk legend turned hired hand, sits with his brightly colored guitar keeping the rhythm intact.
Then hiding in the back, impending rock megastar, Dave Grohl looking younger than I ever remembered him being, actually plays guitar on Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam. I didn’t remember it being that way at all, especially with the muted rhythm that appears throughout the song, I never realized he just kind of pulled off a kind of simplified one man band for this song.
The performance of the song itself is still perfect and moving of course, Nirvana always added an earnestness that was often missing from The Vaselines tongue in cheek anthems.
Sitting there watching them do the song, after a few spins on Spotify to reunderstand why it’s so good, I realized I haven’t really WATCHED the band in years. I mean in my head I think of Nirvana and I remember how they made me feel and why I liked them and what they meant to me as I really started my love affair with music. (I was in 8th grade when Cobain killed himself) But, I’m now older than Kurt was in that performance and by attempting to remove the lens of the band’s legacy and cultural influence, and everything that was soon to happen, I saw the whole band differently. I mean the Reading album may showcase Nirvana at the height of their power, but this Unplugged performance shows them with an innocence and sincerity. Everyone looks so young, despite the stardom and the burdens and the expectations, the covers almost seem freeing almost fun away from some of the hyperpersonal lyrics of the typical band material. In that 4 minutes, Novoselic cracks a smile, Grohl almost rushes to make sure he doesn’t fuck up, and Cobain almost seems determined to show you that yeah he really does know what he’s doing and he’s gonna prove to you all over again.

Thursday night videos?!? Bizarro World aka the Canadian Edition

28 Jul

Videos! Just because I feel like it! Actually in an attempt to push my long awaited Much-Music retrospective forward, I decided to reference a couple of awesome videos that I did not find on my old compilations.(or might’ve appeared on the legendary lost Vol 5.)

Weeping Tile- Cold Snap

Oh Weeping Tile, I can’t tell if you were just star-crossed or screwed out of stardom because of  being Canadian. Weeping Tile at their best could punch with Juliana Hatfield, Tanya Donnelly, and the Veruca Salt girls anyday.(But, they couldn’t punch with those Deal sisters… I mean they were mega-famous chicks who definitely could issue quite the rugby tackle any time you touched their booze or heroin) This song is just catchy, memorable, predicts everything Metric would do, and not having this album has haunted me since its release 1996. However, I finally found a copy this week, so now is the time to mention the magic of Sarah Harmer(who’s still around btw) and co.

The Inbreds- Any Sense Of Time

This bass and drums duo made this great pop gem, that still makes me smile everytime I hear it. Love that album, lost in a sea of Canadianness here in the States, but still they did pretty well for a small indie band in that era of Canadian crap rock like Moist and post prime Tragically Hip.

I mean after all Trailer Park Boys used it to great effect…(hope they got more recognition and paper for it as well)

Sloan-Everything You’ve Done Wrong

Sloan have never really gone away. Despite flashes of fame their good classic 60s pop vibe always has been criminally underrated in the US.

Spotify: Taking The Good The Bad Taking Them Both And There Ya Have…

21 Jul

If you want a bunch of logistical information about Spotify, such as costs or invite status, then you should totally go to one of the 8000 websites that can give you the information you need. I’m here to give some initial impressions now that I’ve actually used the service. I will try and update it after I’ve used it a few days.

In general:
I like being able to select full albums and add them to my queue.(take that last.fm) I don’t have to sit through any songs I hate(take that Pandora) Playlists.

Good: There really is a lot of music on Spotify.
I searched for a lot of different artists from an array of genre’s and was shockingly impressed. For example I started with post punk legends Young Marble Giants, only to find not only their masterwork Colossal Youth, but also a live album of the band that I’ve never actually seen before. The idea of clicking on an artist and instantly being transported to their whole discography all of which is listenable is impressive. I used Dexter Gordon as my test run(since he’s certainly famous, but not sooooo famous) and was shocked at the amount of albums that were pulled.
I will also props the section referred to as “Appears On”, which culls the array of guest appearances an artist has made onto the same page as their albums. This is ABSURDLY useful for hip-hop artists.
Bad
No Joanna Newsom=fail. There are certainly bands that are missing. Sometimes from an album that has every other song available(stupid licensing). Noteworthy internet moments such as the array of mixtapes are definitely not always a part of the service(For example some of the seminal Weezy mixtapes are there, but something like M.I.A.’s original Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape is nowhere to be found)
In fact this whole idea of cloud music availability via licensing could set a dangerous precedent.(In fact I think iCloud could in fact end up a huge main offender in this realm) For example I decided an excellent test would be My Bloody Valentine. Now Spotify has both of their main albums and awesomely enough has both of the main Loveless era EPs. That’s all great, but what about those equally awesome Isn’t Anything era EPs…or maybe even Ecstacy and Wine? Nope those aren’t anywhere, in fact there’s no mention of them. Now I don’t expect Spotify to have everything, but as we transition to more of these services and digital distribution, what ends up missing could create a depressing state of affairs/mind wipe of intellectual information, which could make the idea of deleted/out of print albums look almost quaint.

Taking Both Good and Bad: Organization and search features
I like being able to make playlists I can share with both friends and the public. I also like the idea of making a collaborative playlist(excellent for parties). However, why can I not search for playlists directly through Spotify itself? Why should I have to go to another outside site or collection of sites(such as sharemyplaylist.com) to find some sweet Italo disco mix some dude in Holland made? While it links instantly from those sites, I should really be able to search by tags or genre directly in the Spotify search bar.
It’s easy to favorite songs, share them, and add them to your queue, but having to right click to do all of the above = fail. A few well-designed buttons Apple-style would make all of this even more streamlined and effective.
I would still love to see Spotify merge with Turntable.fm, because mixing the extensive database with the turntable platform would allow one to broadcast and party with friends all in one package.(Perhaps some actual turntable software for scratching and mixing would be awesome too.)
I doubt I’d pay a monthly fee to access the service, because I have a lot of albums and will continually get more. I also don’t need to access spotify on my phone since I have limited bandwidth. But I welcome the ad supported free version and recommend you check it out.

A Brief Incoherent Live Thought Review of a Weezy Mixtape

14 Jul

Lil Wayne-Sorry 4 The Wait

So this is a quick hits live thought recap(i.e. I’m hearing it right now as I make comments) of the new Weezy mixtape, which has the ever present beat jackin used to greatest effect on Drought 3.

Ok tracks 1 and 2 Tunechi’s Back and Rollin are both missing the energy of greater works. These seemed tossed off at the end of a night’s work.

Shockingly hearing Weezy take on the absurdly overrated Kreayshawn jam Gucci Gucci is somewhat satisfying. Maybe because the beat is odd and should be tailor made for Weezy to actually go off. And yet he almost emulates what she does for the chorus, which wasnt particularly good in the first place.

Sex jam time comes in the form of a Drake take off (Marvins Room)…similar to the weirdness of I’m Single, it’s actually the best song I’ve heard on here with the strangest punchline(Im not a killer but dont push me, but I’ll OJ Simpson that pussy)

Sure Thing-Another interesting r&b beat that actually works with the weird Loverman persona Weezy has been using at times the past year or two. It’s not bad.

Racks-This has at least the kind of beat(from YC originally) that Weezy killed on his last noteworthy mixtape(No Ceilings, because Road to Carter 4 wasnt official or that great). Horns, typical bad 808 drum track aka every good Southern rap song of the past 10 years. Even here Weezy sounds a bit tired, but at least there are flashes of good on this one.

Hands up-Another low key R&B beat allows more slow autotunedish love jams that is kind of meh.

At this point I find it necessary to just skip to the Lil B and Weezy collaboration-Grove St. Party

Hey a beat ripped from Waka, this is more promising. The sheer insanity of Lil B and slight unhinged Weezy appear together, which is enough to make the song good even if Weezy still doesnt hit it half as hard as we ‘ve seen on the assorted Carter IV moments that have been out.

Ghetto feat Akon- Hey this beat sounds like an old 90s west coast beat with Akon doing a hook. Hmm just a snippet of a far larger song from Carter IV. That minute and a half was pretty good though.

Inkredible-Is a perfectly lame Young Money showcase with a Weezy verse. Basically like the Young Money album.

Run The World is just a MVPs by Ice-T style shout out, meh.

Weezy does Adele on the Sorry 4 The Wait this could be interesting… OMG Weezy can rap within the rhythm of the song again. At least he goes in on this, and at least makes new Adele sound better than it is.

Throwed Off has a fantastic beat that I do not recognize and yet somehow to almost prove how unispired this mixtape is…Weezy lets Gudda Gudda kill him on this track. How in the hell did that happen?

Overall this was def more Dedication 3 than Drought 3, full of clunkers with the one or two tunes you’ll prob keep in some retrospective Weezy mix. And it did make me decide to get yet another Lil B mixtape though.

Mazzy Star-Blue Light

10 Jul

The first in a series of essays that discusses songs of importance and interest.

Mazzy Star-Blue Light

“I fucking hate Mazzy Star!”

That was the declaration made in the middle of an army of broken Converse and 70’s inspired T-shirts. I mean how else was a child of the Seattle school of Rock and Roll supposed to react to these meandering bleary songs of quiet heartbreak and wistfulness? It’s not that I hadn’t felt my share of heartbreak by the tender age of 13. After all I had chased a cute girl throughout my 3rd– 5th grades in the finest puppy love way possible, to her utter dismay. Which of course started the kind of failure based domino effect, like the one that caused America to panic and commit to a war in Vietnam, to linger around my love life. Of course like America, I did a downright shit job of keeping those dominoes from tumbling.

At the time of ‘Blue Light’s’ release, I believe I had crushes or semi-crushes on a few older girls all of whom were beautiful in markedly different ways, but each one found there way into my heart. Not that I had any particular plan to tell them that I felt that way or that they had floated their way into assorted chaste daydreams that I spent much of class time thinking about. These were the same girls who liked Mazzy Star.

In fact I think all of them liked Mazzy Star…they also liked such luminaries as Veruca Salt(not so bad now that time has freed them Juliana Hatfield’s looming shadow), Weezer(people still love the Blue Album, which I of course hate) Frente(one great cover keeps them in everyone’s iTunes),  and the absurdly overwrought 10,000 Maniacs(who despite having one of the more recognizable singers of the era, consistently found a way to reinvent terrible).

It was in the middle of these 9th grade art classes, we were allowed to play albums during the creative process. Sometimes we got to blare the great Soundgarden albums or Smashing Pumpkin records that one of the guys would bring in, but other times the girls would break out some whiny record, like Mazzy Star, and force us to listen to it for the whole hour.

I never got Mazzy Star. I mean Fade Into You wasn’t that great as a single. If it came on the radio, I certainly never turned the channel, but I’d much rather hear another spin of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ by Nirvana or perhaps ‘My Name Is Mud’ by Primus. It was promptly dismissed  for many years afterwards as “girls music” or punctuated with an abusive declaration such as “I fucking hate Mazzy Star!”

However, somewhere around 2002, I bought their most successful album, So Tonight I Might See. From a used bin, I liberated the CD. For some reason it called to me, despite not really having any affinity for the band. Maybe it was those same girls lingering around, nostalgia of having to sit through those records that I couldn’t be bothered with over and over.

I remember working through the first four songs, but the first thing that really grabbed was Blue Light. I didn’t remember the song from those old art classes and even then it wouldn’t have worked on me because it’s not really the kind of song you play in the middle of the day. In fact all of Mazzy Star’s work tends to gain power as the hours progress, a fact only reaffirmed by Hope Sandoval’s reluctance to sing with lights blaring on the band as they perform live.

That strange opening church organ…it is one of the most uplifting and haunting moments I’ve ever heard. It sounds downright spiritual. Not in a calling to the heavens kind of way, it feels more like a nod to those late hours when there’s no one left but you. There’s nothing but the array of thoughts the day has left  you with, some of which lift you, some of which just tear you down. This organ never lingers in the background of the whole song, fading more to the background, as a typical Mazzy Star guitar riff from David Roback comes in. There’s always a sway and a jangle to the riff that plays throughout the song and defines most of the work done by the band on So Tonight I May See. That repetition breeds comfort and adds warmth to a vocal performance by Hope Sandoval who somehow straddles disaffection and total sensitivity. Hope’s vocals are like one extended flat whisper, barely doing more than she needs to, until those rare moments when she injects a bit of her strange fifties-ish soul that can make that one line far more powerful or heartbreaking. These lines only grow in power due to the fact that there’s not even a real chorus within the song, because there is only room for the emotions at the core of the matter, everything else is bullshit.

The lyrics themselves bounce around into slumberscapes and metaphors, all of which I like, but it is the opening stanza that gets to that gut feeling and remains so memorable.

“There’s a blue light in my best friends room.”

“There’s a blue light in his eyes”

“There’s a blue light…yeah”

“I wanna see it…shine.”

I write it out here and the words don’t seem special. They seem almost too simple or just plain silly and yet when she sings it, it sounds like the most heartfelt thing in the world.

And that’s why I didn’t get Mazzy Star as a teenager. Because when I would sit and daydream these tales of chaste love about some of the girls sitting near me in assorted classes, each thought would be some hormone driven epic interpretation of love. What we’d do, where we’d go, all of it in one big confused jumble. When in reality it is as simple as Hope says it is. Deep down all I want to see, is the eyes of a girl I love shine.

Friday Night Videos on Sunday Morning

10 Jul

Ok so it’s already Sunday morning but frankly it’s a perfect time for videos

Since we discussed Foster The People not THAT long ago, why not just listen to a far superior version of the band…Actually in hindsight this is probably the superior version of Phoenix too

Phoenix-If I Ever Feel Better

 

I just heard the Dilla album this jam is on today, it’s still a masterwork. Video is pretty hilarious and great as well.

J. Dilla-Last Donut of The Night

 

I was tempted to choose There Goes Norman….ah you know what that song is so insanely great that yeah I’m not only posting There Goes Norman but also It’s Gonna Happen. If you dont like The Undertones you should be forced to destroy every guitar based album you own.

The Undertones- There Goes Norman

The Undertones-It’s Gonna Happen